Unlikely Oklahoma Legislature Will Raise Taxes To Solve Budget Crisis

Thursday, November 23rd 2017, 2:21 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

Gov. Mary Fallin will call the legislature back into session in the coming weeks to bridge a $110 million budget gap caused when she vetoed much of their budget plan. 

Lawmakers will likely have to make deep cuts because raising taxes does not seem to be an option. Over the past couple of months lawmakers tried, and failed to raise taxes. They failed because Oklahoma voters set the threshold for raising taxes so high.

The measure we were told was the “last chance” to fill the budget hole with the largest tax increase in state history, staving off massive cuts in services, died in the House of Representatives. The final vote was 71-to 27. 

The tax increase needed 76 votes to pass because of a law commonly known as State Question 640, which requires a three-fourths majority vote of the legislature or a vote of the people to raise taxes. Norman attorney Stan Ward authored the bill more than 30 years ago. 

"We had a history in Oklahoma during the 1980's of every time the legislature met, we got a new tax." Ward said.

Rep. Bobby Cleveland (R) Cleveland County voted against the tax increase.

"We have $1.1 billion in revolving funds. So we don't need to raise taxes," said Cleveland. 

Ward added, "If it is a tax that is necessary and it's a tax that the people of the state of Oklahoma want, you can get a three-fourths majority. It's not overwhelming."

Since the tax failed, there’s been talk in the legislature of lowering the threshold to raise taxes.

"They can do it through a constitutional amendment. They'd have to amend article five section 33 of the Oklahoma constitution to do it.” Ward said. “They'd have to go out and get a vote of the people."

That could take years. So, for now lawmakers will either have to make cuts and find efficiencies or somehow find the three fourths majority to raise taxes. 

As one lawmaker pointed out, even God couldn’t get three fourths of his angels to stay with him.

"Well if we had angels in the state legislature voting on these issues we wouldn't need a super majority," Ward said.

The governor is expected to announce next week when she will call the legislature back here to the capitol to fill the budget gap. Then the legislature will come back again in February for regular session where they face a roughly $600 million budget shortfall.